Umeå is the administrative centre of Västerbotten
. The fastest growing city in Sweden, it has a population of over 100 000, more than a quarter of whom are students at the university. The city lies at just over 64° N, and for over a month in midsummer, the stars do not come out at night, as the sky is so light. In winter, the days are only four hours or so in length - which was the situation when I visited over the new year 2001-2.
Umeå has two museums; den förhistoriska världen
- 'the Prehistoric
World' - apparently has fossil and assorted mammoth
remains, although in winter it's only open at weekends, so I didn't go to see it, and; Gammlia
(the name is from gammal
meaning 'old'), which is an open-air museum with several enclosed sites within it, including the Västerbottens Museum, which has various collections, including some relating to the Sami
people of Lappland
. Those were closed when I visited; however, I did manage to visit the ski museum, where the world's oldest ski can be seen.
Umeå lies at the mouth of the river Ume
which flows down from the mountain lake of Storuman
. The valley, Umedalen - Ume-dale
in English - gives its name to the westernmost district of town, which is where I stayed, in a house backing onto untold miles of dense pine forest. It is not pine trees that are a feature of Umeå, however. The city is known as björkarnas stad
- 'the city of the birches' - as there are many birch
trees in and around the city, planted after houses with birches close by escaped destruction in a great fire in 1888
when the trees burned instead.
In the centre of town there are various shops - the inevitable Systembolaget
, etc - and two buildings of particular interest. Umeå parish church
deserves its own node. The other building of interest is Scharinska huset, a large townhouse adorned with gorgeous carvings on the doors, and wrought-iron balconies. It's old (I forget how old) and is said to have been comissioned by an extremely wealthy citizen to match a large dining table he had obtained. The town hall is also of note, as it has two fronts. One faces the river, and another, newer one was added to face the railway when a progressive king (I'm not sure which) decided to use the new technology to pay a royal visit.
The town lies on 'the Blue Way' - now the European highway E12 - which runs from the Norwegian coast across Sweden, and crosses the Gulf of Bothnia
- the bit known as Bottenhavet
- on a ferry from here to Vasa
. There is also an airport on the south-west side of town, with flights to Stockholm
and other Swedish airports, and to Finland. (Code: UME
) Nearby island Holmön
is the sunniest place in Sweden.